“Horses sweat, men perspire, and women glow,” as the adage goes.
Are the proven benefits of hot yoga, however adapted to Western cultures and the cults of fitness and image, worth the efforts of conversion, if you’re already enjoying your yoga practice?
Answering this question first requires one to differentiate between hot yoga (any yoga class done in temperatures of 95-100 degrees), and Bikram yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury. In 2002, Choudhury copyrighted his series of 26 poses done in a hot room and has since been involved in many legal disputes over the unauthorized use of his name, and, more recently, the use of his method under a different name (Choudhury sued a Los Angeles yoga studio in 2003 for copyright and trademark infringement). All Bikram yoga (copyrighted or not) is hot, in short, but not all hot yoga is Bikram.
Moksha yoga is a relative newcomer to the hot yoga scene, having been founded in 2004, but its popularity has quickly spread from Canada across the United States. Like Bikram, Moksha yoga follows a set series of poses, as does CorePower yoga, a rapidly expanding US chain of hot yoga.
For those who prefer an acestic style of yoga, the extra props and expense required for a hot or Bikram class (mat towels to absorb sweat and improve traction, water bottles, headbands, cling-free attire) may be distracting. In terms of medical benefits, though, are the detoxifying benefits of hot yoga actually theraputic, or just one more way for Westernized practicioners to feel they’ve gotten in a good work out, because they’re sweating?
Hot yoga is not advised for pregnant women, since it can also raise the core body temperature, but if it’s just the release of toxins through the skin, a sauna could do the trick. However, medical studies have shown that the flexibility, and strength and pranayama developed in a hot yoga practice rev up metabolism and the healing process, shown to have ameliorative effects on diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, and depression.
Hot yoga stimulates the nadis and the internal fires: a practice better suited for those yogis and Aruvedic types turning to yoga for calming and restoration. Despite these proven contradictions, perhaps the last question regarding hot yoga strikes at the heart of any yoga practice: intention.
What are you looking for, on your mat, and in a studio? Whether as an occasional challenge, or commited practice, some like it hot, and some (even in the throes of a Toronto winter) do not.